Question:

Hi,

I wanted to reach out because this is something I’ve really been struggling with recently. I’m in my late 20s and I recently moved out of my family home about a year ago due to a complicated relationship with my family. It was really difficult and still is because I am constantly blamed by my parents for not visiting enough, or for leaving home and being made to feel selfish or like a bad daughter. I always feel like I don’t check in on them enough and I feel bad that I left because I’m not there to help my mom even though my two brothers still live at home. They don't understand how or why I did it for my mental health. They want me to visit multiple times a week, and this just isn’t possible with my busy work schedule and balancing my personal life and household. This isn’t as much of a question as it is just me venting but how do you deal with this? As much as I wish I could move out and not look back, this is not possible and it's not something I want to do either. I just don’t know how to make myself feel okay with my choices and telling my parents where I stand without hurting anyones feelings. Any advice is appreciated.

Answer:

Hi friend, 

Thank you so much for your submission, because in addition to kicking off this column, it really does strike a nerve with me in particular, and I’m sure with many, many brown women.  

This is a conversation I myself have been having with my family over the last few years, before ultimately deciding to stay at home for the time being during the (never-ending) pandemic. I do intend on moving out (soonish), and certainly anticipate it will happen before I get married. But explaining this desire to my parents has been an extremely long and complicated process that sometimes feels hopeless. 

I’ve felt so many conflicting emotions, trying to balance my own wishes with the needs and wants of my family, which is what many of us have had to do our entire lives.

As brown girls we often learn very young that much of our freedom is tied to our family, and so little to our own individual quest for happiness.

We are never truly our own, and we are always reminded of this. 

We belong to our family and make choices in their best interest as we navigate our teen years and early adulthood, and then we are expected to make choices that set us up for marriage and to eventually “belong” to someone else’s family.

I brought up wanting to move out on my own to my parents a few years ago, and explained that before I am expected to get married, I want to experience my own independence. I enjoy my solitude, which is something that they don’t quite understand. I was also told by my mother that “I can’t move out until I get married.” 

I pushed back. I explained that I wholly reject the idea that I need to be someone’s wife in order to be seen like I have achieved some imaginary marker of success. This logic is ingrained in brown girls from a young age, as it is also what was taught to our own parents. You don’t want to live by your parents' rules? If you get married, you can get “freedom”—only to then live by your in-laws' rules. Our moms did it, so there’s the expectation that we will too.

So for starters Anonymous, you got over one of the hard parts by making that big decision for yourself and doing what you needed to. 

For me personally, one day quite recently, I decided to appeal to my mom on a level I thought she would understand. 

I came home late one night and received a lecture from her about “coming home on time.” (Mind you, I’m 25-years-old.)

I told her it was for this reason that I needed my own space. Not because I don’t want to live here and don’t have the utmost love and respect for my parents, but because I need to experience what it’s like to live for no one but myself. This was hard for her, because this was something she sadly never got to experience. I struggle in explaining this to her because I too don’t want to be seen as selfish or ungrateful. 

I explained that I’m constantly navigating guilt and other emotions about not spending enough time at home with the family, or that when I am, so much time is spent on conversations like these. I explained to her that with my own space, I would be able to approach relationships like the ones with my family, with intention and on my own terms. 

This would allow us to focus on understanding and getting to know one another on a deeper level, and not fixating on being reprimanded for being someone navigating her 20s. Relationships, even with your family, shouldn’t be built on obligation, even if that’s something we have been taught to believe. I care about these people, so I want to do it from a place that is positive. We get to determine the terms of the relationship, including how much or how little we wish to engage. 

Me leaving and coming back as someone’s wife isn’t going to guarantee that either. And it should never be the expectation.

What I told her is the same thing I’ll tell you: You have to be relentless in the pursuit of your own happiness. 

This isn’t always going to be easy. It will take sacrifice and it will likely mean disappointing a few people along the way. Your inner voice knows exactly what it wants and how it wants to feel, and is trying to prevent you from living your life entirely for other people. Don't ignore it.

Once you get in the habit of doing this, it becomes infinitely harder to turn back. It's why it's so hard for our parents to understand. So sure, ripping the bandaid off and living with your choice to move out, and living with the incessant guilt-tripping by your parents is always going to be hard. It unfortunately won’t get easier, because they don’t even realize they are doing it. They love us and want to spend time with us, but they are also operating from their limiting beliefs.

What will impact you in the long run is the massive price you pay when you abandon yourself.

I explained to my mom that I know it may not be what they want and that I don’t blame them for navigating life the way they do because of the way they grew up. But if I don’t center my own happiness in my own life, and accept that people may not like it along the way, I will never be able to find what happiness means to me, and only me. 

It’s not selfish to want to live your own life. You’re brave as hell for doing it. Just remember that setting boundaries with people you love is more than okay, and will create space for those relationships to be founded on something other than obligation. They may not get it at first, but you’re not selfish for putting yourself first. All you can do is hope that they too can learn from your relentless pursuit of happiness, and attempt to model it in their own lives as well. 

Love always,

- Rumneek

Submit future questions and submissions for "Sh*t you can't ask your parents," here.

About the author

Rumneek Johal

Rumneek is a journalist, host, and Editor-in-Chief of 5X Press. She is also host of 5X's Youtube and IGTV show What's the Vibe breaking down hot topics inside Surrey and out. She is a graduate of The University of British Columbia's Masters of Journalism program, and has previously worked as a host/producer at Decomplicated, and as a writer at Daily Hive Vancouver and CBC Toronto. She thinks she's funny on twitter @rumneeek

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